Complexities of being an Architect - Alina Holyst, Architect

For our December #Anxiety Arch theme Women in Architecture Alina Holyst gives her views & experiences as an architect. Looking at how she, as a woman has been treated by others in the industry and looking at the profession's psychological impact.   

"Gender stereotypes have pernicious effects as the patriarchy continues to affect women in the architectural industry. In Northern Ireland only 20% of Chartered RIBA members are female. From my own experiences, women more often face discrimination from colleagues, difficult clients and contractors. Ironically, while I worked for a substantial construction firm I was bullied terribly by a women manager. Her destructive rivalry was fuelled by insecurity in the male-dominated environment. I also discovered that men, at least, compete overtly.

Ever been called a wee girl due to your youthful appearances? A compliment, maybe, but in reality, it only undermines the years of your job experience. Over 13 years - in my case, performing a variety of senior roles, at construction sites, international environment, teaching and running my practice.

The complexity of our role and responsibility in a culture of excessive work hours and intense workload can be a 'blueprint' for anxiety. As architects, we have to maintain excellent knowledge on every possible construction related subject, develop outstanding management skills, display exceptional use of latest software combined with artistic skills & impressive creativity and problem-solving skills. We are expected to perform at our best all the time to meet the criteria. That's a lot of pressure particularly if you deal with personal issues or family-related problems.

There have been times throughout my career when my mental health has suffered. Some symptoms have triggered my physical health and I've had to overcome many hurdles. I am well too familiar with the impact of mental health issues and the devastating consequences of untreated depression in the family. I have developed a deep understanding of the importance of friendships, social encounters, visiting relatives (as often as possible) and balancing paperwork with family dinners. Many years ago, thanks to ABS I was able to benefit from excellent counselling sessions and learned how to be more resilient and stronger.

The architectural profession is generally perceived as a very prosperous and wealthy job prospect. And it can be very rewarding, however, the impact of unstable employment, “boom” and “bust” workflows, securing a project from month to month can cause constant worry.
I observed that for sole practitioners, worry about the cash flow and management, administration of the practice while pitching for new work can be exceedingly difficult. For small architectural practices, the environment can be very isolating and extremely stressful. There is no in-house HR support mechanism for sole practitioners.

A by-product of the above-described issues can be “impostor syndrome”, that's when you question your abilities, you don't know your value. Women are harsher on themselves and the drive to perfection can be overwhelming.

When your profession is your passion it can be very difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. At my practice, we have been adopting a flexible working model which is a continuous improvement.

To ease some daily pressures I take my Rottweiler pup Otto for a walk. Pets have outstanding mood-boosting powers! Highly recommended for improved creativity and productivity."

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